Hot Air: May I?

Blue-Eyed Soul Brothers (and Sisters)

For some odd reason, this old chestnut jumped into my mind. Well, it is May, isn’t it? Enjoy:

It charted in the spring of 1969. Wikipedia characterizes the band’s music as a cross between “blue-eyed soul and beach music,” although this 45 was unmistakably ska.

This makes me think: What were the greatest blue-eyed soul acts ever?

Here are a few of them:

  • Average White Band
  • Hall and Oates
  • The Righteous Brothers
  • The Rascals
  • Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  • The Doobie Brothers
  • Tower of Power
  • Lisa Stansfield
  • Eric Burden and the Animals
  • David Bowie
  • Dion
  • Tom Jones
  • The Spencer Davis Group
  • Rod Stewart
  • Tony Joe White

Quite a few other solo and group acts have been categorized as B-ES — for instance, Three Dog Night and George Michael — but I arbitrarily rule them out because either I don’t like them or whoever categorized them thusly was flat-out wrong.

Anyway, who’s your fave?

Understanding Studs

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s birth. I adored Studs. He was one of the most sincere, thoughtful, sensitive, unaffected people I’d ever met in my life. I patterned much of my writing after him, using a tape recorder and then, eventually, a digital recorder, placed unobtrusively to the side as I interviewed people at length and in depth, reaching as far as I could into their pasts and their memories.

Studs spoke at Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s first inauguration, which was fitting. There was no more liberal or progressive guy around than Studs — unless it was Harold. Then, after a few pretenders tried to fit into Harold’s shoes after he died of a massive heart attack the day after Thanksgiving, 1987, Richie Daley, son of the first Boss Daley, finally won election as mayor in 1989. Daley selected Saul Bellow to speak at his inauguration and political columnist Steve Neal, no progressive, hoorah-ed that Chicagoans wouldn’t have to endure Studs’ “stale polemics.” Neal then insulted Studs by calling him nothing more than a “recordist.”

I never read Steve Neal again after that.

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Harold Could Charm Even Those Who Hated Him

[Photo By Marc PoKempner]

Studs would have shrugged his shoulders at Neal’s broadsides. I believe in his most private moments such sans souci would have held. He really didn’t care what critics said about him. He wrote about human beings, reaching almost into their souls, his famed Uher reel-to-reel recorder spinning away next to him and his subjects.

Oh, and he would have said to me, “Why are you using terms like sans souci? Who are you tryin’ to impress?”

You want an example of how down-to-earth Studs was? He was married to the same woman, Ida Goldberg, for 60 goddamned years until she died. Hell, I’ve had a hard enough time living with myself for 60 years.

Well before US gov’t eavesdropping became a hot topic thanks to Edward Snowden, Studs in 2006 was part of a federal lawsuit to stop AT&T from turning customer phone records over the the National Security Administration just for the asking. Studs and his co-litigants said, Hey, how about a court order?

It’s not surprising, therefore to learn that Studs was a victim of the McCarthy-era blacklist. Terkel was big in Chicago TV, hosting Studs’ Place, set in a stage barroom with notable figures from literature, politics, film, activism, and other fascinating fields dropping in for conversation. The show is considered one of the defining pieces of the Chicago School of Television. No matter. Studs had rubbed shoulders with too many iffy characters whose favorite colors were pink or even red. His television career came to a screeching halt.

My favorite book by Studs was Talking to Myself, A Memoir of My Times. In one chapter he recounts bringing British journalist James Cameron to Lincoln Park to observe the Sunday night clash between Chicago Police — yelling “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as they charged — and a ragamuffin group of anti-war protesters during Democratic Convention week, 1968. Studs and Cameron eventually sought refuge in the Lincoln Hotel at Wells and Clark streets, where they mingled with the likes of playwright Jean Genet, poet Allen Ginsberg, author William S. Burroughs, and screenwriter Terry Southern, also eager not to have their skulls caved in by cops’ billy clubs.

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Blood Flowed At Lincoln Park

Oddly, Studs never waxed with rage at things like that police riot. He viewed such infamy almost with the remove of a zoologist witnessing a cheetah bringing an impala down and tearing into its abdomen. Violence, Studs seemed to convey, is what we visit upon each other. It’s our normality.

One of Studs’ books, The Great Divide, featured a long interview with wealthy socialite Sugar Rautbord. One reporter once called her the “outspoken blonde at the top of the social heap in Chicago.” Sugar ate only at the most exclusive restaurants, wore only the chicest designer fashions, knew only the hottest models and photographers. It’s said she once rode around a city she was visiting in a limousine filled with her luggage after the hotel she was supposed to have stayed at had screwed up her reservation. She later claimed bouncing from hotel to hotel — the city was hosting some major event that day — taught her what a bag lady must feel like.

I happened to interview Studs for a TV book program soon after The Great Divide came out. I opened the interview with an intentionally daring statement:

Me: You delve into the life and mind of Sugar Rautbord, someone I already despise. You reveal her so completely that I now despise more than ever.

Studs: I don’t want you to despise her. I want you to understand her.

You know what? He was right.

Then again, I wonder if he’d be able to maintain this sangfroid (again, who am I trying to impress?) today, had he been alive, interviewing Donald Trump, delving into his life and his mind.

Studs died at the age of 96 in 2008. He’d smoked two fat cigars a day for decades.

He was my hero.

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Straight Talk

Prez Obama got down during his speech to the 2016 graduates at Rutgers University Sunday. This stuff stands w/o comment from me — it needs no explanation or preamble. Go, Barry:

But if you were listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from. So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.

I’m sorta falling in love with this guy again.

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May 17th Birthdays

Erik Satie — French composer who wrote Trois Gymnopédies, a hauntingly beautiful piece for piano, covered by the brass rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears on their eponymous second album. Satie coined the term “furniture music” to describe live musicians playing background music in a home or at a small event, the very early precursor of what would become ambient music. Satie had an unquenchable thirst, to use the euphemism of his times, and was partial to the quasi-toxic absinthe. He died of cirrhosis in 1925.

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Archibald Cox — The first special prosecutor charged with delving into the Watergate affair. When the Nixon scandal had become to big to stonewall anymore, Attorney General Elliot Richardson called Cox to offer him the position of special prosecutor. Cox only hours before awoke from his night’s sleep suddenly and unexpectedly deaf in one ear. His doctors informed him he’d lost his hearing permanently. He took the position anyway and was eventually fired by Nixon for doing his job too well, along with Richardson and the AG’s second-in-command William Ruckleshaus, both of whom refused to axe Cox. That task was left to future Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who carried it out with relish.

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Dennis HopperEasy Rider‘s Billy. He also appeared in Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson’s Head, starring the Monkees.

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Taj MahalNee Henry Fredericks, a self-taught musician and composer who seasoned his blues playing with Caribbean influences and other international styles. As a child he listened to his family’s short wave radio, hearing music from all corners of the world, and eventually incorporating those disparate sounds into his repertoire.

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Patricia Aakhus — Author (under the pen name Patricia McDowell) of a trilogy of novels dealing with Irish life and history, she was a high-ranking official in both the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and the International Studies Department at the University of Southern Indiana until her death in 2012.

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Rosalind Picard — MIT computer genius who developed the “affective computing” model. She explains: “Affective Computing is computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotion or other affective phenomena.” She’s a convert to Christianity after growing into adulthood as an atheist. Picard is a proponent of many “Intelligent Design” precepts. She endorsed the conservative Christian group The Discovery Institute’s 2001 “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.”

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On this day in 2012, Queen of Disco Donna Summer died. And, no, she wasn’t a transgender person, although rumors to that effect flitted around at various times during her long career. Ironically, she found herself in hot water after being accused of issuing an anti-gay statement in the wake of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s. She’d become a born-again Christian by this time and was accused of saying the disease was god’s punishment for homosexuals’ sinful lifestyle. She denied saying it. Funny thing was, her mid- to late-’70s hits had been gay anthems and were heard constantly in the era’s enormous, airplane-hangar-sized gay dance clubs. In any case, she and her producer Giorgio Moroder, changed the course of pop music forever with their synth disco hits.

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